Archive for September, 2012

Irving Adler

September 27, 2012 4 comments

Irving Adler changed my life. He wrote The Giant Golden Book of Mathematics, which my parents gave me on my eighth birthday. I loved math, but I hadn’t yet decided to make it my life’s work. The book opened my eyes to the wider world of mathematics and its history, after which there was no turning back.

Adler died last Saturday. Excerpts below from the NYT obituary give some sense of his extraordinary life. I wish I had written to thank him.

Irving Adler, who wrote dozens of books on the elegant essentials of science and math, almost all of them directed toward capturing the curiosity of children and young adults, died on Saturday in Bennington, Vt. He was 99.

The cause was a stroke, his daughter, Peggy Adler, said.

Mr. Adler joined the American Communist Party in 1935. In 1952, at the height of the Red Scare, when he was chairman of the math department at Straubenmuller Textile High School on West 18th Street in Manhattan, he was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigating Communist influence in schools. Invoking his Fifth Amendment rights, he refused to answer questions.

Mr. Adler became one of 378 New York City teachers ousted under New York State’s Feinberg Law, which made it illegal for teachers to advocate for the overthrow of the government by force.

The United States Supreme Court upheld his dismissal in 1952 (Adler v. Board of Education), but declared the Feinberg Law unconstitutional 15 years later.


The wonders that Mr. Adler would illuminate in his 87 books — many written with and illustrated by his late wife Ruth Relis Adler — are evident in their titles. Among them are “How Life Began” (1957), “The Stars: Steppingstones Into Space” (1958), “Thinking Machines” (1961) and “Inside the Nucleus” (1963).


Irving Adler was born in Manhattan on April 27, 1913, one of five children of Marcus and Celia Kress Adler, immigrants from what is now Poland. His father first worked as a house painter and later sold ice, coal, wood, seltzer and beer.

Irving was an outstanding student, entering Townsend Harris High School at 11 and graduating from City College with a degree in mathematics at 18. Soon after “he was teaching high school students that were older then him,” his daughter said.

Categories: Books, Math, Obituary

Drones and Civilians

September 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Yesterday, the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU Law School released the joint report Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan. In it, we learn, from the opening paragraphs of the Executive Summary:

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.

This narrative is false.

Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies. Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones.

The summary is worth reading in full. I’ll quote one more passage.

Second, US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.

Also yesterday, President Obama spoke to the United Nations General Assembly. In the context of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi two weeks ago and the killing of four Americans, He said, “There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents.”

Hmm. Obama must have interesting conversations with the fellow he sees in the mirror every day.

Categories: Politics, War

Standing in Another Man’s Grave

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Atop my short list of crime or thriller writers whose every work I buy the moment it comes out is Ian Rankin. I had never been a crime novel reader. In August 1999, we were about to leave Scotland for France and I had nothing to read for the remainder of our trip, so I picked up the Rankin novel that had just come out in paperback. I can’t say I liked it that much. A little too violent. I did like its depiction of Edinburgh, though, so I got the next one. And the next, and the next, having fallen in love with Rankin’s great creation, Detective Inspector John Rebus.

Rankin retired Rebus five years ago in Exit Music, introducing in his place a new Edinburgh detective, Malcolm Fox. Fox works in the internal affairs division, and has appeared in The Complaints and The Impossible Dead. (See posts here and here.)

I always order Rankin’s books from the UK, since they are published there well before their US appearances (and for this reason, my links above are to Every so often, I head over to the UK site and look up Rankin to see if future titles are listed. Doing so last month, I discovered that Standing in Another Man’s Grave is due soon. November 8. Better yet, Rebus returns! I immediately pre-ordered it. I gather Fox may be led to investigate Rebus, perhaps because of an old case. I don’t know. And I don’t want to know more, not until I read it.

Standing in Another Man’s Grave will make its US appearance on January 15, for those of you who are content to wait two months rather than paying for overseas shipping. We got into the UK ordering habit years ago with the Harry Potter books, back when UK publication was many months before US publication. Even when Potter became such a huge phenomenon that each new novel was released simultaneously around the world, we would still order the UK version, since it preserved the original language of J.K. Rowling rather than Americanizing large bits of text. That’s not an issue with Rankin, of course, but still, I don’t want to wait.

Speaking of Rankin and Rowling, let me mention the Ian Parker profile of Rowling in the latest The New Yorker. The print issue isn’t out yet, but the article is featured at the top of their website now, freely available to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. I’ve read only part of it, but it looks worthwhile. And it mentions Rankin in the opening paragraph:

Ian Rankin, the writer of Edinburgh-based crime novels, became friendly with Joanne Rowling when they were neighbors in another part of the city; he recently described her as “quite quiet, quite introspective.” He recalled urging Rowling to join him for an onstage interview at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, a few years ago. After Rowling watched Rankin being interviewed at a similar event, she told him, “I don’t think I can do that.” Rankin said, “I think she feels uncomfortable in a room full of adults. I’ve seen her in a room of kids, and she’s in her element.” Rankin noted that Rowling, in her writing, retains “the power of life and death over these characters.” She is wary “of situations you can’t always control—in the real world.

Two paragraphs later, we learn the reason for the November appearance of Standing in Another Man’s Grave.

In Britain, Ian Rankin typically publishes a new novel in October, and it tends to go to the top of the best-seller list. He said that, this year, his publisher moved the date to November, fearing that the late-September launch of [Rowling’s] “The Casual Vacancy” will, for weeks, render all other fiction invisible to readers and to the media. Rankin was taken aback but glad for the extra writing time.

Darn that Rowling. If not for her new book, I’d be re-acquainting myself with Rebus a month sooner. Well, I’ll be patient. I’m just glad we’ll meet soon.

Categories: Books

Four Years

September 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Oops. The fourth anniversary of Ron’s View passed unnoticed. I started it on a Sunday evening, a few hours after the conclusion of the 2008 Ryder Cup, which served as the subject of my first post (not counting a two-line welcoming post). Since then, I’ve associated blog anniversaries with Ryder Cups, and this year’s competition doesn’t start until Friday. But four years ago, with a different calendar, it ended on September 21. Thus, the anniversary snuck up on me. It was yesterday.

How to celebrate? Well, at the least, I can celebrate that the subject of the post that followed my Ryder Cup post four years ago has faded into well-earned oblivion. I won’t have to spend the coming fall — which started today — obsessed by her special blend of ignorance and small-mindedness. Hooray for that.

Categories: Blog

Those Pesky Republicans

September 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Poll tax receipt

You gotta love ’em. Having discovered in Florida twelve years ago that if you manage vote counts, you can win an election with fewer votes than your opponent, they have moved on to passing state laws that make it hard for people in lower income levels to vote. This in the name of minimizing voter fraud, even though they have no evidence that the claimed fraud exists. Or, to quote the first two paragraphs of a report by Wendy Weiser and Vishal Agraharkar of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School:

“Ballot security” is an umbrella term for a variety of practices that are carried out by political operatives and private groups with the stated goal of preventing voter fraud. Far too often, however, ballot security initiatives have the effect of suppressing eligible votes, either inadvertently or through outright interference with voting rights.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with investigating and preventing voter fraud, despite the fact study after study shows that actual voter fraud is extraordinarily rare. But democracy suffers when anti-fraud initiatives block or create unnecessary hurdles for eligible voters; when they target voters based on race, ethnicity, or other impermissible characteristics; when they cause voter intimidation and confusion; and when they disrupt the voting process.

It’s the return of the poll tax, in disguised form. If you can’t tax voters directly, just make them take a day off from work to get newly required IDs. Then harass them at the polls. As Charles Pierce explained at his Esquire blog a few days ago,

the problem with enacting this whole brand-spanking-new style of Jim Crow voter-suppression laws throughout the land is that you have to keep the basic Jim Crowishness of them on the downlow. Which means you have to build and maintain the charade that these laws have nothing to do with suppressing the votes of the Blahs, the Browns, and the Poors, and everything to do with fending off the legions of liberal thugs who are planning to climb on their dilithium-crystal-powered transwarp buses and vote in all 49 states this November. Among other things, this requires you to construct a Potemkin system by which the various suspect classes can obtain the new ID’s that they shouldn’t need to get in the first place.

Elizabeth Drew, the veteran political reporter, put the issue in stark terms in a New York Review of Books blog post yesterday, which I highly recommend reading in full. I’ll quote her closing, which leaves no doubt about how strongly she feels on this issue.

Having covered Watergate and the impeachment of Richard Nixon, and more recently written a biography of Nixon, I believe that the wrongdoing we are seeing in this election is more menacing even than what went on then. Watergate was a struggle over the Constitutional powers and accountability of a president, and, alarmingly, the president and his aides attempted to interfere with the nominating process of the opposition party. But the current voting rights issue is even more serious: it’s a coordinated attempt by a political party to fix the result of a presidential election by restricting the opportunities of members of the opposition party’s constituency—most notably blacks—to exercise a Constitutional right.

This is the worst thing that has happened to our democratic election system since the late nineteenth century, when legislatures in southern states systematically negated the voting rights blacks had won in the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Categories: Politics

Mozart at the Gateway

September 22, 2012 Leave a comment

I wouldn’t have predicted a week ago that I’d now be reading Christoph Wolff’s Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788–1791. But I am. I’ve seen it mentioned favorably, most recently a Briefly Noted review in the August 27 issue of the New Yorker. Last night, while struggling to choose from my growing list of other books, I decided to give it a try and downloaded the opening sample from Amazon. Having just finished that sample, I have now downloaded the rest.

Wolff is a musicologist at Harvard, known especially for his work on Bach. Here is the description of Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune at the book’s website:

A fresh look at the life of Mozart during his imperial years by one of the world’s leading Mozart scholars.

“I now stand at the gateway to my fortune,” Mozart wrote in a letter of 1790. He had entered into the service of Emperor Joseph II of Austria two years earlier as Imperial-Royal Chamber Composer—a salaried appointment with a distinguished title and few obligations. His extraordinary subsequent output, beginning with the three final great symphonies from the summer of 1788, invites a reassessment of this entire period of his life. Readers will gain a new appreciation and understanding of the composer’s works from that time without the usual emphasis on his imminent death. The author discusses the major biographical and musical implications of the royal appointment and explores Mozart’s “imperial style” on the basis of his major compositions—keyboard, chamber, orchestral, operatic, and sacred—and focuses on the large, unfamiliar works he left incomplete. This new perspective points to an energetic, fresh beginning for the composer and a promising creative and financial future.

The site also contains praise from famous musicians: Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Alfred Brendel. And conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, with this over-the-top comment:

For years I’ve been wondering and the question becomes ever more cogent, what puzzling new language Mozart used for his three symphonies and even the Magic Flute. It is a new Mozart, and we cannot simply continue as before. Why? What is it? What does it mean today? To the performer, to the listener? Now I found a helping hand in Christoph Wolff’s unexpectedly novel book. We musicians, used to helping ourselves, gratefully embrace his assistance.

I’m only a short ways into the book, so I’m not in a position to evaluate Harnoncourt’s assessment. Not that I would be anyway. I love Mozart’s final symphonies, but I hardly expect to make much sense of Wolff’s analysis when I get to it. I did enjoy one passage from the Prologue, which I’ll quote.

The setting: Mozart has written to his wealthy friend Michael Puchberg to ask for a loan, sending Puchberg a copy of the German translation of John Mainwaring’s biography of Handel. As Wolff explains, the “book was not a meaningless gift. It describes the life of a famous man Mozart would ultimately want to be compared with … . In addition, Mozart also seems to have used Mainwaring’s discussion of Handel’s excessive love of food as a paradigm for his own situation so that Puchberg, who knew what indulgences and extravagances played such a decisive role in his friend’s need of money, might better understand the special needs of a great artist.” Wolff then quotes from Mozart’s letter:

Those who have blamed [Handel] for an excessive indulgence of this lowest of gratifications [his eating habits], ought to have considered, that the peculiarities of his constitution were as great as those of his genius. Luxury and intemperance are relative ideas, and depend on other circumstances besides those of quantity and quality. … For besides the several circumstances just alleged, there is yet another in his favor; I mean his incessant and intense application to the works of musical art. This rendered constant and large supplies of nourishment the more necessary to recruit his exhausted spirits.

Constant and large supplies of nourishment. I like that. If only I were a genius, so I could merit them.


I started this post two nights ago. In the meantime, I’ve gotten much further into the book, and I continue to enjoy it.

Categories: Books, Music

DeMarco Restaurant

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

[Photos from Yesterday’s Island]

I mentioned last night that before the memories of our recent Nantucket trip completely fade, I still hope to write about our Nantucket Historical Association house tour and our dinner at DeMarco. Here’s my DeMarco post.

DeMarco is a traditional Italian restaurant with a limited menu of classic dishes, serving Nantucket for 33 years. It seems to come in for criticism for not changing, but what it does it does well, so in its case, not changing may be good. A month ago, when Gail and I were reviewing which restaurants we might wish to visit, I came across this feature on DeMarco from an early June issue of Yesterday’s Island. Its opening:

Don DeMarco has done it again!

Just a few weeks ago, DeMarco Restaurant on India Street opened the door on its 33rd season as the island restaurant to go to for fine Northern Italian cuisine. Fresh, local ingredients are emphasized in dishes that are creatively prepared, artistically presented, and absolutely delicious down to every vegetable and accompaniment.

Four years had passed since our last meal there. We decided it was time to return. And so we did, two weeks ago tonight.

Two of their classic dishes are the Pomodoro Verde e Rosso Fritto Capre, or Fried green and ugly tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, aged balsamic, and the Boscaiola, or “Badly Cut” fresh pasta, wild mushrooms, prosciutto, tomato, sage, cream. One can get a half order of the pasta as an appetizer. Already set on having scallops as her main dish, Gail couldn’t decide which of these two to start with.

It turns out that that article last June included a discussion and photos of several dishes. Had I re-read what it said before we went to dinner, we would have been in no doubt that one of us had to order the tomatoes.

One of our all-time favorites at DeMarco is The Fried Green and Ugly Tomatoes — a luscious stack of sliced, juicy red tomato and breaded and fried green tomato with basil, fresh mozzarella, and aged balsamic to make the flavors sing. Our opinion is shared by so many that DeMarco would risk an uprising if he ever took it off the menu! This appetizer should be on everyone’s list of “must-haves” on Nantucket.

But I hadn’t re-read it, and instead urged Gail to order the equally famous Boscaiola. She had it last time and loved it. I went with the Tre Lattuga: Bartlett Farm lettuces, shaved vegetables, Pecorino Toscano, red wine vinaigrette. (Bartlett’s Farm, on the island, supplies many restaurants with their produce.) Both were great, but the Boscaiola is rich, and Gail decided she might have done better by starting with the tomatoes.

I had the Pasta Bolognese as my main dish. Although I don’t see it on their online menu, it’s one of their standards. And it uses the same pasta as in Gail’s Boscaiola. I couldn’t have been happier. The sauce was rich, tasty, excellent, and the wide-noodle pasta is perfection.

For dessert, Gail chose the tiramisu, also featured in the Yesterday’s Island article, and deservedly so. I had a sorbet, the details of which escape me. It was red, or purplish-red. Some kind of berry. Delicious.

Over the course of the evening, we heard bits of conversation at a couple of neighboring tables — plus a conversation between an arriving customer and Don — that suggested his thirty-three year run was about to end. Soon. Like, that week. The next night, someone staying at the inn with us, on learning we had eaten there, said that indeed they were closing. Don was retiring. Yet, even today, when I look at the website, there’s not a clue that Demarco has closed, or will soon.

On the other hand, someone posted the following on the DeMarco Facebook page two Saturdays ago:

It is realy hard for me to write this down, but I guess it is my responsibility and Jareds to let you know that DeMarco Restaurant is closing forever this sunday. After 33 years since its a restaurant, DeMarco became a home for soo many people and part of their life. I believe that we should all say thank you Don and Terese for this experience that you gave us. Thank you for the memories that we will always bring with us wherever we go next. I believe that many of you found at DeMarco friends that they can count on for the rest of their life, because DeMarco was never just a job but a family. For all of you who know someone that is not in this page please let them know that DeMarco is closing. Cheers for all of you out there from the last crew of the restaurant. I hope we will see each other again

So apparently they closed the day we left the island. Good thing we went when we did. We only regret that we didn’t go more often. We’ll miss it.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel

Nantucket Photos

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Eight days have passed since we left Nantucket and the memories are fading, but there are some aspects of our visit that I still hope to write about. Our Nantucket Historical Association house tour, for instance. And our dinner at DeMarco, which after 33 years is apparently closing. We got back just in time. For now, I’ll put up some of the photos I took with my iPhone.

The photos aren’t great. I’ve brought our digital SLR on past visits. It does a better job, to say the least. But there’s some funny business going on with its willingness to work with the memory card — intermittent claims that the card isn’t formatted. I didn’t want to lug it around only to find that it couldn’t take photos. Just before we left on the trip, I looked into a replacement. Too many choices. I decided to be content with the phone. And anyway, we’ll soon have iPhone 5s. Their cameras will be much better. For one thing, they’ll work better in low light. As you can see, the photos I’m posting here tend toward darkness.

Let’s review some geography first. Have a look at the map below. You see the island, with the entrance to the harbor in the center to the north and the town on the harbor’s west side. The harbor runs way east, separated from the Atlantic at its eastern edge by a thin sliver of land. We stay in Wauwinet, at the southern end of that sliver, where 250 yards of sand and dune separate harbor from ocean. There are about two dozen houses to the north of our inn, then a small gap, then one last house, beyond which the land is held in trust and not developable, running miles northward to Great Point and its lighthouse.

At the top of the photo is a photo I took at sunset two weeks ago from outside our inn, looking westward across the harbor. A couple of mornings later, just past low tide, I took a walk along the stretch of ocean beach that is near our inn. The photo below was taken looking northward, with that last house I mentioned visible in the distance. After that, it’s just beach and dunes for miles.

I also tried to get a shot that showed ocean, harbor, and dunes together. With a better camera, you would be able to distinguish them more clearly. But this is what I got. You see the ocean on the right, the dunes and some of those last two dozen houses in the middle. Take a closer look and you may see the water of the harbor to the left center, above the houses, with the land that separates harbor and ocean curving northwestwards, from right to left as you go up the photo.

On our first visit to town, we headed to the Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum to renew our membership and get information on their walking tours. The museum’s rooftop observation deck offers one of the best vantages of town and harbor, as illustrated below. The museum is just down the street from the landing for the Steamship Authority‘s car ferry to Hyannis. That’s why you see lots of trucks to the lower left. You also see some of the Nantucket Yacht Club‘s tennis courts, which abut both the ferry and the museum.

On our last trip into town, we took a short walk down Orange Street. The commercial strip of stores and restaurants that runs from Straight Wharf on the harbor westward and uphill along Main Street comes to an end at Orange. Main Street continues west, but as a residential street, with some of the town’s most historic homes lining both sides. The last two stores are among Nantucket’s classic institutions: Mitchell’s Book Corner on the southeast corner of Main and Orange; Murray’s Toggery Shop to the southwest. We headed south on Orange to see the Second Congregational Meeting House, dating from 1809 and now the home of the Unitarian Church. (It also serves as home for some of the activities of Congregation Shirat Ha Yam. We had the pleasure of attending Rosh Hoshana services there two years ago.)

Just a little farther down the street is the Levi Starbuck house, built in 1838. The Starbucks, as you may know, are a famous Nantucket family, though the most famous of all is fictional, the chief mate of the Pequod in Moby-Dick.

That’s it for now. I hope to be back with news of our historical walking tour.

Categories: Travel

Paintings of the Ramayana

September 16, 2012 1 comment

Rama bends his bow, circa 1700, Kulu, from The San Diego Museum of Art

We went to the Seattle Asian Art Museum on Wednesday evening for the opening celebration of a new exhibition, Many Arrows from Rama’s Bow: Paintings of the Ramayana. The exhibition is a joint venture of the Seattle Art Museum and The San Diego Museum of Art, whose curator of Asian art, Sonya Quintanilla, provides the following description:

One of the world’s most captivating stories, the Ramayana, has inspired artists in India for more than 1500 years. The moral and epic struggles of kings, warriors, wives and brothers effortlessly traverse the worlds of humans, animals, gods and demons. In a special collaboration with the San Diego Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum will present an exhibition of art depicting scenes and heroes of the Ramayana.

Visitors will follow the unfolding of the dramatic narrative, become familiar with its protagonists and learn the underlying philosophical and devotional meanings of the Ramayana in this presentation of nearly 40 paintings of stunning quality—many of which have never been shown before. Representative works from a variety of regions, social classes and time periods reveal how artists depicted the same story in marvelously diverse means of visual expression, thereby testifying to the Ramayana’s timeless appeal.

Many of the paintings are from the San Diego museum. A few were lent by Seattle-area collectors Elvira and Gursharan Sidhu. Wednesday’s opening celebration included a program in the auditorium featuring Gursharan, who explained how the exhibition came to be. It seems that for many years he has nurtured the idea of an exhibition built around the Ramayana. On comparing notes with someone in San Diego — I have forgotten the details — he realized they had enough pieces between them for a viable show, and that was that.

Also speaking in the program was Sarah Loudon of the Seattle Art Museum, the show’s curator. She talked about both the Ramayana show and another exhibition that is running simultaneously, Women’s Paintings from the Land of Sita, for which she is guest curator. At the website for the second exhibition, she provides this description:

An artistic transformation took place among women living in a cluster of villages in Bihar, northeastern India, once high-quality paper became available to them in the 1960s. In the Mithila region—the region that was home to Sita, heroine of the Ramayana—women maintained a long tradition of painting the walls and floors of their households with auspicious diagrams and deities. As women began adapting traditional imagery and painting new subjects on paper, the work in their distinctive regional style was seen outside their immediate environment for the first time.

This exhibition of 30 paintings from a private collection includes works by 9 exceptional women artists from these villages. Their work became known in India’s cities within a couple of years, and connections to the international art world followed in the 1970s and 1980s. Their innovations and individual styles are introduced in the first grouping of art within the exhibition. Two groundbreaking series of narrative paintings are also featured: one depicting episodes from the artist Lalita Devi’s own life, and another series is by Baua Devi, based on a local legend of snake spirits (nagas). The progress of the artists’ work from this distinctive area—or “Land of Sita”—reflects some of the changes taking place in their lives and of many women elsewhere.

Here is the piece featured at the museum website, from the Sidhu collection:

Family gathering of nagas, 1975–1985, Baua Devi (Indian, born late 1940s)

Regarding the Sidhus, I found an interesting short piece in Apollo Magazine from six years ago about how they came to be collectors. Gursharan pinpoints when it all changed.

The key moment was the purchase of their fifth painting: “This is where the craziness starts. It was at the dealer Doris Wiener in New York. She had a fantastic Basholi. Its cost was equal to my annual salary. Elvira and I talked and decided we could live on her salary. So we bought the painting.”

At the end of the program, we all went back upstairs, where we were free to view the two exhibitions and to partake of food and wine. Taste, the restaurant in the Seattle Art Museum, catered an excellent Indian buffet dinner: rice, chicken on skewers, an eggplant dish, a cheese dish, a chickpea dish, bread, and baklava.

We had been back from our east coast trip less than 48 hours, had not eaten dinner yet, and it was nearing 7:30 PM Seattle time, so we were well past normal dinner time and decided to start with the food. Next was a viewing of the women’s paintings. By the time we got to the Ramayana show, we were beat. We circumnavigated the one large room that houses all the Ramayana paintings, stopping at several pieces for closer examination, but ultimately decided we should return another time for a more thorough viewing when we had more energy.

As we exited, we were treated to one of the great views Seattle has to offer, from the high point of Volunteer Park westward toward the Space Needle, the Sound, and the Olympic Mountains beyond. Dusk was drawing to a close, the western horizon washed in pink.

Categories: Art

Afternoon at The Cloisters

September 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Two weeks ago today, we were in New York visiting assorted family members. Around 1:00 PM, we found ourselves in Manhattan, on the Upper East Side, with a few free hours. As I mentioned in this post, I voted to go down to the High Line, but Gail and Joel voted to head up to The Cloisters, so that’s what we did. And as I also observed, this turned out to be a wise choice, given the hot sun, the 90+ degree temperatures, and the high humidity. We would have wilted on the High Line, whereas we thrived at The Cloisters.

With the passage of time, I don’t have a whole lot to say anymore about the visit, but I do have some photos. Maybe I’ll mention our drive. We started at the Cloisters’ home base, the Metropolitan Museum, where our car happened to be. Up Madison we went, from 79th to 125th, turning left to cross the heart of Harlem. I had my doubts about this on a Saturday afternoon, with shoppers and traffic. Its lone advantage was that it was the simplest, most direct route, over to the west side and the Henry Hudson parkway, then up past the GW Bridge to Fort Tryon Park and The Cloisters. But that drive across 125th was exhausting. Double parked cars in the right lane. Left turners in the left lane. Buses swinging in and out. An empty bus on its way home blocking my view ahead much of the time.

Arriving at the park, we made a loop around The Cloisters, took in views across the Hudson to New Jersey, then parked on the south side and climbed up the hill to the entrance. Perhaps I should give some background. Let’s see what we can learn from the Cloisters’ website. There’s this:

The Cloisters museum and gardens, the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, was assembled from architectural elements, both domestic and religious, that date from the twelfth through the fifteenth century.

The building and its cloistered gardens—located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan—are treasures in themselves, effectively part of the collection housed there. The Cloisters’ collection comprises approximately three thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from about the ninth to the sixteenth century.

And from the history link, there’s more. I’ll quote the first few paragraphs, and leave the rest for you to find at the webpage, which also has the photo I’ve put at the top of the post.

The Cloisters museum and gardens, which opened to the public in 1938, is the branch of the Museum devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan, The Cloisters was assembled from architectural elements that date from the twelfth through the fifteenth century.

Located in a spectacular four-acre setting overlooking the Hudson River, the building incorporates elements from five medieval cloisters—Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville—and from other monastic sites located in southern France. Three of the cloisters reconstructed at the branch museum feature gardens planted according to horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, garden documents and herbals, and medieval works of art such as tapestries, stained-glass windows, and column capitals. Approximately three thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from the ninth to the sixteenth century and including exquisite illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, metalwork, enamels, ivories, and tapestries, are exhibited in this unique context.

The modern museum building is not a copy of any specific medieval structure but an ensemble of spaces, rooms, and gardens that suggest a variety of artistic aspects of medieval Europe.

Much of the sculpture at The Cloisters was acquired by George Grey Barnard (1863–1938), a prominent American sculptor and an avid collector of medieval art. Barnard opened his original cloisters on Fort Washington Avenue to the public in 1914; through the generosity of philanthropist and collector John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874–1960), the Museum acquired the cloisters and all of their contents in 1925. By 1927, it was clear that a new, larger building would be needed to display the collection in a more scholarly fashion. In addition to financing the conversion of 66.5 acres of land just north of Barnard’s museum into a public park, which would house the new museum, Rockefeller donated 700 additional acres across the Hudson River to the state of New Jersey to ensure that no developments on the property would spoil the view from The Cloisters. In addition to providing the grounds and building to house the Barnard collection, Rockefeller contributed works of art from his own collection—including the celebrated Unicorn Tapestries—and established an endowment for operations and future acquisitions.

Wow! I didn’t know the part about Rockefeller Jr. giving New Jersey 700 acres so that the view wouldn’t be spoiled. I was indeed impressed with how beautiful it was, with just woods across the way. (I included my shot of the view in the earlier post. Here it is again.)

I forgot to mention as background for our little family vote that Joel had never been to the Cloisters. It had been decades since I was there, and years since Gail was. It’s a long way up from midtown if you don’t have a car, and not always the most pleasant drive if you do. But aside from our slow crawl across 125th, our drive was easy, and in any case, it’s worth it whatever the route.

Rather than writing in any detail about our visit, I’ll just put up some of the photos I took with my iPhone. Not high quality, but representative of The Cloisters’ glories.

Here’s a photo of one of the actual cloisters, with its beautiful plantings and some strangers passing through.

Here is a detail from a 15th century German oak sculpture of the death of the virgin, the central scene of an altarpiece from the workshop of Tilman van der Bruch.

I suppose the unicorn tapestries need no introduction, though if you want one, see here for lots of information. Below is a detail of the most famous of the tapestries, the unicorn in captivity.

And here is a detail from the unicorn at bay.

I’ll close with this wall painting of a camel from a Spanish monastery in the first half of the twelfth century.

Okay, one more:

These are scenes from the life of St. Augustine, from a Flemish painting, circa 1490, the central panel of a triptych. The left panel is lost; the right is in Ireland’s national museum.

The art alone is worth the detour. The magical setting is a bonus. So too, on a hot summer day, are the cool building and lovely outdoor spaces with plantings and views. Gail and Joel, thanks for outvoting me.

Categories: Art, Travel